Seanad debates

Thursday, 7 February 2019

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Social and Affordable Housing Provision

10:30 am

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister of State.

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
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It is great to be here.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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He is always very welcome. Senator Lombard has the floor.

Photo of Tim LombardTim Lombard (Fine Gael)
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It is great to have the Minister of State, Deputy English, here to respond to this matter which relates to the Minister with responsibility for local government investigating the option of developing an affordable housing scheme in Kinsale on lands that are in the ownership of Cork County Council.

The Minister of State has a connection to Kinsale and will know that it is a thriving town that has been the subject of significant development in the past 15 years. Its population has increased by more than 30%. The town has witnessed major infrastructural development in terms of schools and roads. Other infrastructural and sporting projects have all developed amazingly during the past decade.

I wish to refer to the lack of affordable housing in the town. Work is under way on six private developments in the town. An important social housing scheme comprising 40 houses is under construction, which is a very welcome development. This importance of this €9.7 million project needs to be acknowledged. The remaining portion of land in the ownership of Cork County Council is quite significant. The original plan was that this site could provide anything up to 150 houses but I am not sure if that figure still stands. I understand an affordable housing scheme to be one that can involve both the local authority and private developers building houses at a cheaper rate to facilitate members of the general public accessing housing cheaper and also being able to have ownership of the property.

This land has been in the ownership of the local authority since the early days of millennium. Very little has been done with this land, other than the work carried out in recent months. There is a wonderful opportunity to develop it for the residents of Kinsale. We have nearly everything that is needed to do that bar the will to drive the development of such a project. I would be hopeful that the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government could instruct the local authority to move to ensure the development of the asset of this land portfolio.

It is almost criminal that such land in the ownership of Cork County Council is not being developed. This is a significant issue for the town. We have spoken about land in the ownership of the State and about the housing crisis. We have an affordable housing crisis and a social housing crisis in Kinsale. We need a pathway to ensure the development of this land portfolio, whether it be through a public private partnership or the Department instructing the local authority that it will put the value of the land portfolio against the houses. A mechanism needs to be put in place to ensure the delivery of this site for the construction of affordable housing in Kinsale. This site could accommodate a significant number of houses, be it 50, 60 or 70. I am not sure how many it could accommodate but the land is available. We need the political will to develop it. We need central government to work with the local authority to deliver housing on the remainder of this land portfolio. If that was done it would provide a perfect mix in Kinsale with an affordable housing scheme that, hopefully, we can get off the ground, the social scheme currently being built and the other private developments.

The lack of an affordable housing scheme is the gap in the market that the people are talking about. Such a scheme would assist a household with two incomes who find they are just short of what they need to get mortgage. We need to ensure Cork County Council moves on this project. That is important. We need leadership from central government to ensure we get that movement on this.

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
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I thank Senator Lombard for raising a very important issue for Kinsale as well as the wider issue of the affordability of housing and the Government's plans to deliver affordable housing. The Senator is correct in saying that I have connections in Kinsale and I am always glad to discuss it and to visit it because it is a fabulous part of the country. It is an area that is doing very well in the context of job creation, business and tourism. It is a very self sufficient town for which housing is very important. I have family who are very happy living in Kinsale. The town is well served with schools and other education facilities but it is important that we deliver the necessary housing there too. I am glad to say that 40 social housing units are being built on a site in the town. Work on that site began just before Christmas and it is great to see construction activity there. I hope to visit it soon.

While the issue raised by Senator Lombard this morning is affordable housing, when it comes to social housing it must be said that there is a lot happening in Cork. Cork County Council is probably one of the leading local authorities when it comes to the delivery of social housing under the direction of Mr. Tim Lucey, the county manager, and Mr. Maurice Manning, director of service for housing and his team. I have met them on numerous occasions to discuss social housing projects as well as affordable housing schemes. They are very interested in driving on with the development of affordable housing. The Senator is on the nail in terms of the importance of affordable housing and Cork County Council understands that too and has been doing good work in that area. I am happy to work with the local authorities in Cork to bring forward more proposals.

In fairness to all local authorities, they have been doing good work over the last year or two in rebuilding their housing teams, putting in serious effort and concentrating on the delivery of housing. That is now paying off. The delivery of social housing has increased a lot and we now have a healthy pipeline of projects. In Cork, the pipeline contains more than 1,700 units over the next few years. We want to double that again and keep going. There is good pressure there in terms of social housing and now that we have the social housing delivery back on track, we want to move on to a key phase, which is the delivery of affordable housing for those who are at work but who are unable to afford a mortgage on the open market. Affordable housing is for those people earning less than approximately €75,000 jointly who would not be in a position to buy a house at full market value but who, with some help from local authorities in terms of providing sites, would be able to access an affordable home. In this context, the State's land bank has an important role to play.

Senator Lombard has asked whether land in Kinsale which is owned by Cork County Council can be used for affordable housing and the short answer is "Yes". It can be used and it will be used if all the plans for it come together. I will outline the position in that regard shortly. More generally, the State land bank plays a vital role in delivering housing. Increasing and accelerating housing delivery, particularly for social and affordable purposes, is at the heart of Rebuilding Ireland, the Government's action plan for housing and homelessness. The Minister has made it clear that the focus will be on affordable housing going forward. The plan places a particular focus on maximising the output of housing from the land banks of housing authorities, the Housing Agency and the broader public sector. Thankfully, there is a large State-owned land bank in Cork. There is enough land to deliver more than 3,500 houses. There is also land in Cork in the ownership of the Housing Agency that can be used for housing. There are many sites available, amounting to 160 ha, in State ownership that can be developed for social, affordable and private housing.

On the site in Kinsale, to which Senator Lombard refers, I understand that Cork County Council has conducted an economic assessment and concluded that it would qualify for affordable housing. The site was not put forward in the first round of affordable housing projects announced in June of last year. We have now set aside €310 million for the serviced sites fund which will service land belonging to local authorities and a second round will open in the coming weeks. The local authority in Cork has assessed four or five different sites for affordable housing, and the site at Glanmire qualified for funding in the first round. When the next round opens, I imagine it will put forward the site at Kinsale as well as others located in Mallow, Midleton, Carrigaline and Clonakilty, all of which would pass the test for affordable housing. I hope that we will see a number of applications submitted by the local authority in Cork. I see no reason for Kinsale not being successful. Indeed, development of that site would compliment the work that is going on there already to provide social housing. If everything goes to plan, 40 affordable housing units could be delivered in Kinsale. There may even be some space to deliver more.

We are trying to use State owned land throughout the country. We know that there are approximately 1,700 ha of land in the ownership of local authorities and we want to see a lot of it used for housing. While it will not all be suitable for housing, the majority of it can be utilised for a blend of social, affordable and private housing. Cork is leading the way in that regard.

Photo of Tim LombardTim Lombard (Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister of State for his response, which was very informative. I welcome the announcement of a second round of funding to service sites for affordable housing. That will give the opportunity for sites in Carrigaline, Kinsale and Clonakilty to be brought back into the system. That is what I wanted to hear this morning. I am glad the scheme will be reopened and other sites will be considered. Kinsale is a very important site, as are the sites at Clonakilty and Carrigaline, in the context of the growing population around Cork city. I welcome the Minister of State's assurance that there will be a second round of funding and I ask him to work closely with officials from the local authority to ensure that the sites to which I refer can be included. If they are included, that will be the last string in the bow in terms of affordable housing projects that we need to get off the ground in Cork. If these sites can be brought to market, the knock on effect will be very positive. Those people whose joint income is less than €70,000 will be able to access affordable housing. The desire to own a home is very strong in Ireland. People really want to own their homes.

I ask the Minister to clarify when he is proposing to reopen the scheme to applications. What amount of funding will be provided?

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
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We will be inviting applications for the serviced site fund shortly. Under that fund, €310 million has been set aside over the next three years to service sites. Applications originally opened in June 2018 when we had €100 million set aside. The funding was increased in budget 2019. We will be opening the scheme again in the next few weeks but I do not have an exact date at the moment. Local authorities will be invited to make applications for funding for various sites, including the ones we referred to in Cork. I expect that the site in Kinsale will be on the application from Cork County Council. We have engaged with local authority officials on this. We had a workshop in November with the local authorities which was attended by Mr. Maurice Manning and his team and they engaged fully with us. I was in Cork recently with Senator Lombard to open a housing project and had further discussions with Mr. Manning about opportunities to provide more affordable housing. He is very much on the ball.

In terms of how the process will work, local authorities will apply to the fund which will help to service the land that they own. The regulations for the scheme will be announced in the next couple of weeks by the Minister. These regulations will clarify who qualifies for the scheme. It is expected that those who would qualify for the Rebuilding Ireland home loan, that is, those with a joint income of around €75,000, or a single income of €50,000 will qualify for affordable housing. Each local authority will decide itself on the priority and allocation process in terms of who qualifies for any houses built. The allocation systems will be designed locally.

This is a good scheme and we hope it will deliver between 6,000 and 7,000 houses over the next few years. We will have an opportunity to deliver a lot more into the future too.